As a regular consumer of gemstones, you'll often encounter gems that are ˜synthetic' or have been ˜enhanced.' What do these terms mean? How do they impact the quality of a gemstone? And most importantly, what are some popular enhanced and synthetic gems on the market?
Before you scratch your head in confusion, let's define these gem terms one by one.
Synthetic Vs. Enhanced Gemstones
Simply put, synthetic gemstones are created in laboratories. Several variations of the term ˜synthetic' are used interchangeably in gem trade (e.g. artificial, lab-grown, or man-made) but all of them refer to gems that have been synthesized in a controlled lab environment and not in nature.
Often, they are made by using the ingredients found in natural stones and mimicking natural conditions. Some synthetic gems share the same chemical, physical, and optical characteristics with their natural counterparts. Both may also contain the same exact flaws and mineral inclusions.
Some of the common synthetic gem processes are:
- Flame fusion or the Verneuil process - Melting powdered chemicals through a high-temperature flame. Molten particles are collected and made to crystallize into a gem.
- Flux growth - A method where the components of the desired gemstone are dissolved in a solvent. As the solution cools, synthetic crystals begin to form.
- Crystal pulling or Czochralski process - In this setup, nutrients are melted in a crucible. Then a crystal seed is dipped into the melt, and then slowly pulled away as it grows a single crystal.
- Hydrothermal growth - Imitating the heat and pressure conditions in the earth to form gems. Nutrients are dissolved in a water solution, then synthetic crystals form as the solution cools.
On the other hand, enhanced gemstones are natural gem crystals that have been treated to alter or improve their colour, clarity, durability, and wearability. Enhancements and treatments are done after the gems are formed and extracted. It's important to note that human-enhanced gemstones aren't synthetic stones, in the same way that synthetic stones aren't necessarily enhanced gemstones.
There are various procedures used to improve a raw natural stone. For instance, Blue Topaz naturally occurs in a very light blue shade. So it is irradiated to deepen its colour. Corundum gems (i.e., Ruby and Sapphire) are also heat-treated to intensify their shade.
Other enhancements and treatments include:
- Heating - Subjecting a gemstone to heat to lighten, deepen, or alter its colour.
- Irradiation - Treating a gem with ionizing radiation to change its optical properties. This is done to change a gemstone's colour or to lessen its inclusions.
- Dyeing - Adding colour to a gemstone (common in non-transparent gems).
- Bleaching - Applying chemicals or other elements to lighten or boost colour consistency of a gem.
- Oiling - Filling oil or resin into the cracks or fissures in a gemstone to make them less visible.
- Coating - Coating a gem with a thin film to increase its iridescence, or to give it a lighter or stronger colour.
Are Artificial Gem Production Methods and Enhancements Acceptable?
Absolutely! Both are widely accepted practices in the gem industry.
Some natural gemstones are prized for their exceptional beauty, durability, and rarity. Gem experts create synthetic versions of these scarce stones to keep up with market demands. Because they're widely available, you now have a wide range of choices. This allows you to freely select stones based on your need, preference, and intent.
Gem treatments and enhancements have been around for centuries. And some gemstones wouldn't have existed if not for innovations in gem treatments, such as blue and purple Tanzanite stones. Naturally occurring Tanzanite has a yellowish brown hue. But when heated at 800 to 900 °F, the stone yields a violet-blue colour which is popularly used in jewelry.
Synthetic and enhanced gems can be cheaper than their natural counterparts. But in most cases, both cost just the same. Quality wise, man-made and enhanced gems can be clearer and contain fewer inclusions since they've been refined.
No matter the stone species, you can trust that these gemstones are durable and available anywhere.
9 Popular Man-Made and Enhanced Gemstones
Now that we've made the distinction between synthetic and enhanced gem materials, let's identify some in-demand gemstones, the process they've undergone, and the qualities that make them unique.
It is the transparent species of Quartz known for its yellow to orange colour. Citrine is the most frequently bought yellow to orange gem because of its high clarity, durability, and affordability. It is also the birthstone for November.
Natural Citrine has a pale yellow hue with smoky tones, and it is very rare. Most Citrine gems you'll see on the market today are produced by heating Smoky Quartz and Amethyst. The result are stones with colours ranging from light to darker yellows and orange-red to orangey brown shades.
Although heat-treated, these gems are still a form of Citrine since they're part of the growth process of the Quartz mineral.
2. Aqua Aura Quartz
Aqua Aura is a gorgeous bright blue stone with an iridescent sheen. It is often used in meditation and crystal healing. Aqua Aura Quartz is produced through vapor deposition. In this process, a Quartz crystal is heated to 1,600 °F in a vacuum chamber together with gold vapour. Then the gold atoms fuse to the surface of the crystal to give it a permanent rainbow-like iridescence.
Another popular man-made gem is Goldstone, a material in making sculptures, tumbled stones, and accessories. It has a unique reddish brown colour, shiny inclusions, and a glittery appearance (aventurescence) that is eye-catching.
Goldstone is created by melting copper oxide, borax, and silica in a vessel and made to cool slowly until the mixture crystallizes.
4. Rainbow Amethyst
This crystal is the result of infusing Amethyst (the purple variety of Quartz) with titanium and gold. The atoms of both elements fuse to the crystal's surface, producing an iridescence similar to Aqua Aura. Rainbow Amethyst is also used in crystal healing and balancing the chakras.
5. Blue Topaz
This Topaz variety is popular because it's simple yet elegant, and valuable yet inexpensive. Blue Topaz rarely occurs in nature, with a clear to light blue shade. Most Blue Topaz gemstones available in the market today are synthetic. They are made by heat treating and irradiating colourless Topaz to produce assorted shades of blue.
Stones with a light to moderate blueness are called Sky Blue and Swiss Blue Topaz, while stones that have a deeper (almost denim-like) sky blue colour are called London Blue Topaz. The value of the stone increases with the intensity of its colour.
This lead mineral is used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and pigments. Bismuth occurs in nature, but as a dull gray mineral without a crystal structure. So to enhance its appearance, Bismuth is treated in a laboratory where it is melted and allowed to cool naturally.
As it cools, it forms hopper-like crystals (reminiscent of the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids) that have an iridescent yellow, green, and blue colours.
Agates are a type of chalcedony (a cryptocrystalline form of Quartz) known for their multiple colour varieties, moss-like inclusions, and banded patterns. They are often cut and polished for jewelry uses.
Agates are found as geodes within volcanic rocks or lavas, which is to say they occur in nature. However, they are dyed to produce different colours and patterns to suit decorative purposes. The colour enhancement process involves boiling Agates in a bicarbonate solution then soaking them in a chemical solution. Different chemicals create different colours in the stone.
Used as a decorative and healing stone, this translucent (sometimes milky white) stone is made of silicon dioxide. Opalite may look clear when placed on a light-coloured surface, but it displays a blue or a sky blue colour when held against a dark background.
The natural counterpart of Opalite is Opal, which occurs very rarely in nature. Opal commonly forms in volcanic ashes. Known extraction sites are in Africa and Brazil.
9. Silicon Carbide
Silicon Carbide, also known as Carborundum, is a semiconductor and the only compound of silicon and carbon. It has an enchanting black colour covered with rainbow-coloured spikes throughout that glimmer. The mineral is very fragile and it flakes easily when touched.
It grows in nature as Moissanite. It is found in Corundum deposits and in certain types of meteorite, albeit in very limited quantities. This is why synthetic Silicon Carbide crystals have been mass-produced since 1893.
It is manufactured by combining silica sand and carbon in a furnace and heated at a high temperature ranging from 2,910 to 4,530 °F (a process called sublimation). Silicon Carbide is also a great abrasive which is why it's used as a primary material in grinding wheels. It is also used in crystal healing to dispel negative energies.
Buy Your Gemstones From a Reputable Shop
Whatever type of stones you've decided to purchase, make sure you get them from a reliable rock shop. Choose a supplier that not only offers a diverse range of products, but also has knowledge and expertise of all types of gem works. Go for a seller that is willing to disclose all information concerning their products to help you make a wise purchase decision.
If you're looking for a reputable supplier, you've found the right place. StoneBridge Imports is a trusted wholesaler of gemstones, rocks, minerals, etc. We've been supporting small businesses, crystal healers, and craft makers for over 20 years now.
Our loyal customers love us for our honesty, exceptional product line, and prompt customer service. Start your gem shopping today by browsing our collection! You can also send us a message if you have gem-related questions.